The right side of history, as told by…

Why gay marriage needs a collaborative effort

| Managing Editor

I was excited to see an article in the paper on National Coming Out Day, detailing the cooperation of Pride Alliance and new campus “movement” The Right Side of History. There had been, it seemed to me, a significant tension between the two groups, based upon what appeared to be The Right Side’s lack of engagement with the actual voices of the LGBT community.

The Right Side of History seeks fundamentally to pass legislation allowing gay marriage nationally in the next two years. Their method in doing so is, they claim, novel: They seek to engage the 95 percent of straight youth in an effort to support gay marriage, rather than focusing on the 5 percent of the population that identifies as LGBT. Pride’s original disagreement with this policy was that it more or less cast to the side the voices of the community for which it sought to attain civil rights. This skirmish between different ideas in service of the same basic goal demonstrates the relevance of a prominent political binary: that of ends and means.

More simply put, organizations like Pride that focus more on LGBT populations perform gay-marriage advocacy with a focus on the means of the movement—it is only valid, presumably, if its means are true to the goal trying to be achieved. The Right Side of History, on the other hand, seems to display a greater concern for their goal, the end of their action—the legalization of same-sex marriage—than for the supposed integrity of its means.

Arguably, The Right Side has reached many more students already with their appeal to the majority “straight” audience at W.I.L.D. than has Pride in quite a while, but only because they sought to find allies among those not explicitly engaged with the collective LGBT voice. The Right Side of History might be credited with this, then: They are not afraid to succeed.

These words are a paraphrase of the description given by Slavoj Žižek of Vladimir Lenin, in a compilation of Lenin’s early writings that illustrate his push toward further revolution in the midst of the passive opportunism of many of the rest of the Russian Communists, who kept faith to the deterministic means dictated by Marxist texts. Žižek proposes that this attitude by Lenin—of reformulating means in order to get to what we know are just ends—is one we might adopt today. The Right Side of History seems to have adhered to this advice: By really actively rethinking the means used to achieve legislation on gay marriage, it moves toward the end goal of success rather than worrying so much about its own internal integrity, as the to-the-letter Marxist Mensheviks did in Russia.

The problem is this is Lenin. Russian Communism did not turn out well, and many might argue that it was a problem of execution rather than one of basic values. The integrity of a movement may in fact be elemental for it to succeed.

The advantage of our current situation is that, where Lenin could either wait for the workers to rise or spur revolution himself, a movement toward same-sex marriage can operate with both internal integrity and external engagement; it can maintain faithful means while focusing intensely on its end goal. The Right Side of History, I mean to say, adds a valuable second element to LGBT advocacy by bringing an attitude of intense goal-orientation. That orientation toward ends must be integrated with and driven by individuals actively engaged with the LGBT community; its means must match its ends. But again, this particular movement has this advantage: It can do both.

Sign up for the email edition

Stay up to date with everything happening as Washington University returns to campus.